Court gives WFUV fifth victory for its tower plan

New York state’s highest court early this month unanimously upheld WFUV-FM’s right to complete the radio tower on Fordham University’s Bronx campus, despite complaints from the nearby New York Botanical Garden that the tower spoils the skyline. This was the fifth victory in various administrative and court appeals. For nearly four years the tower has remained half-built. The ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals upheld a local zoning ruling that permitted the tower. Remaining federal historic issues are being mediated between the university and the botanical garden.

Make it shorter and hang flags from it

The New York Botanical Garden, still fighting the completion of a nearby 480-foot tower for WFUV-FM, told the FCC late in October that the station should disguise the antenna as a 185-foot double flagpole. In its reply to the commission, WFUV said the notion was “without technical or practical merit” and asked for approval of its construction permit. The botanists are “trying to sidetrack the commission” and extend the two-and-a-half-year delay, says Ralph Jennings, g.m. Before proposing the double flagpole, the garden had suggested a stone tower to hold the antenna, but it was not feasible, he says. “All these things would be pretty, but they’re about 200 feet high, which is no higher than what we’ve got now.” The garden hired Washington engineers Cohen, Dippell and Everist to work with architects, who came up with the flagpole design, and commended the idea to other communities where stark towers are planned.

Nothing’s easy in the Bronx, where botanists are tough

Fordham University’s WFUV has withstood for the third time a neighbor’s challenge to its plan to complete a 480-foot transmitting tower on its Bronx campus. The state Supreme Court in Manhattan upheld June 12 [1996] previous rulings of New York City’s Buildings Department and its Board of Standards and Appeals, which accepted the tower as a valid accessory use of the university. But many obstacles remain. The neighboring New York Botanical Garden, which opposes the tower as a blight on its horizon, expects to appeal the court ruling and points out that the city zoning regulators still want Fordham to move the half-built tower 25 feet to make it legal, and that the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to approve the tower. Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam dissed the garden’s esthetic argument.

Federal agency will help station build new tower despite broadcasts of Mass on Sundays

With its new transmission tower half built, WFUV-FM in New York City now has some more money to pay for it, after prevailing in a funding dispute with a federal agency, but its neighbors won’t rest until the station tears down the steel and erects it elsewhere. The Fordham University station in the Bronx got its good funding news in December when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration settled the university’s lawsuit and gave WFUV an equipment grant of $262,858, plus about $100,000 in legal costs. In declaring WFUV eligible for the federal grant, NTIA Administrator Larry Irving reversed his 1993 decision that the agency would not assist stations carrying religious programming, including WFUV’s weekly one-hour Catholic Mass. Under the new policy, NTIA announced on Dec. 20 [1996], public broadcasting stations will be eligible for grants even if ”a grant might result in some attenuated or incidental benefit to sectarian interests,” though not if religious activities are ”the essential thrust of the grant’s purpose.”

”In other words,” says WFUV General Manager Ralph Jennings, ”it’s okay to serve the religious needs as well as the other needs of the community.”

”Religious voices cannot be driven from the public square,” said Fordham’s president, the Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, in a press statement.